A Staff of Reed

I was taught as a young believer, and have believed ever since, that in the Scriptures ancient Egypt is a type of the world. That this land of great power is but a land of slavery and bondage. That though it seems to be the place to go back to when the going gets tough, nothing good really comes out of Egypt. That though it has a certain allure of being a good land of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, and onions which draws the freed captive back to it, ultimately it is a distraction and detour from sojourning to a better land, the land of promise.

And you read the prophets and still God’s people had the propensity to look to Egypt for help in time of need. The place you’re tempted to go back to when you’re feeling cornered. Where you ask for help when you’re no longer seeking help from above. But it’s the place, when all is said and done, which is really of very little help and of no eternal value. That’s why the LORD’s characterization of Egypt, of the world, catches my eye this morning.

“Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the LORD. Because you have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel, when they grasped you with the hand, you broke and tore all their shoulders; and when they leaned on you, you broke and made all their loins to shake.”

(Ezekiel 29:6-7 ESV)

A staff of reed. A flimsy crutch, says the Message. Breaking under the burden. Ultimately that’s what Egypt was for Israel. What the world is for God’s people.

Something appearing to be of substance, something advertising itself as having the answers, but hollow and with nothing of eternal value to offer. A straw walking stick. Woefully inadequate for the journey.

And the Spirit also emphasizes this reality this morning through John.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

(1John 2:15-17 ESV)

The world is passing away. So for those of us journeying to a better land, “that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a), who are looking forward to a city which actually “has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10), why would we hamstring ourselves with a flimsy crutch? Why go back to a land of bondage? Why seek aid from that which is, ultimately, of no help? Why pursue pleasures that, at best, are for a season, yet rob the treasures of our eternal inheritance? Why take up a staff of reed when what we need is a solid Rock?

Do not love the world. Don’t get fooled and compromised by a reed staff. Instead, John says,

Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He made to us — eternal life.

(1John 2:24-25 ESV)

That’s the promise, eternal life. And it ain’t by going back to Egypt. We’re not going to get there depending on a staff of reed. But solely by trusting in the Son of God.

Only by His grace. All for His glory.

Amen?

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An Arbiter or An Advocate

Job thought he needed an arbiter. John says we have an Advocate. Job was looking for someone to act as judge between himself and God so he could plead his case. John knew our need for Someone to draw alongside us who could plead our case before God, the judge. Job was looking to defend his righteousness. John knew he needed forgiveness for his sin.

This morning I’m chewing on the contrast between wanting an arbiter and having an Advocate.

For [God] is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both. Let Him take His rod away from me, and let not dread of Him terrify me. Then I would speak without fear of Him, for I am not so in myself.

(Job 9:32-35 ESV)

Not judging Job, but he might have done well to heed wisdom’s warning: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). As Job starts free-wheeling with his buddies, debating the why of his suffering, it seems to me he gets to be too free-talking about His God.

You read Job 9 and it feels like Job gets really close to accusing God of being kind of a cosmic bully. That even though “I am in the right,” says Job (9:15, 20), because God is God his right-ness could never stand (9:19). That though he knew himself to be blameless, God would still prove him perverse (9:20). That if he tried to stand before God, God would just crush him and multiply his wounds (9:17). That, though Job thought coming to trial with God would settle the matter, even if Job could somehow summons God to appear, he didn’t believe that God would listen to his arguments (9:16). If God would only let up with the rod, Job reasoned, then he could then speak out with his defense (9:34-35). And an arbiter could settle the matter. One who would judge between Job and God. But alas, “there is no arbiter between us.”

So, though Job considered himself blameless, he loathed his life (9:21). He saw himself in your proverbial no win situation. Better to have never been born, reasoned Job (3:3). For even a right man can’t be in the right before God (9:2).

And all because, thought Job, there is no arbiter. No one to judge between himself and God. No one to rule against God on the basis of Job’s righteousness. Yeah, that really is a no win situation.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

(1John 2:1-2 ESV)

We look not to an arbiter who will judge between us and God as we defend our ways as blameless (or at least better than others). But we have an Advocate with the Father who has paid the price for our sin.

Our hope is not to one day stand before God and make a defense of our good works and noble efforts. But our hope is founded on the One who has already hung before God on a cross and bore the wrath for our filthy rags and polluted garments (Isa. 64:6).

Our confidence not in the expectation of standing before a neutral third-party to debate our righteousness with a holy God. Instead, confident in Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the One to whom the Father has given the right to judge (Jn. 5:22). But has, instead, imputed to us His own righteousness, and mediates before the Father on our behalf (1Tim. 2:5) on the basis of His perfect and finished work.

We have an Advocate.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Because of grace. For His glory.

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Actions and Attributes

Kind of a mash-up this morning. Two very different readings coming together to help make some sense of what, on the surface, makes no sense. Not overly concerned about the context of the Word, but comforted this morning by its content. Let me try to explain.

First I read in Ezekiel:

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

(Ezekiel 24:15-16, 18 ESV)

Okay, I’ve been reading in the prophets for awhile now. Getting used to the death and destruction foretold because of sin and stubbornness. But to be honest, something about this death hits hard.

Ezekiel has had to endure a lot as the servant spokesman for God. Seen things in visions that have torn his heart out as he’s been brought into God’s confidence concerning the need to judge the rebellious house of Judah. Subject to spectacle and ridicule as he’s been asked to be a living object lesson indicating what God is about to do. So, you’d think that having someone at home to debrief with after a long day of prophesying would have been helpful for his ministry. That having someone sympathetic to his call would have provided some respite when everyone else rejected his message. That being able to go home, whenever he could, to someone whose arms would hold him when he just needed to be held would have been comforting. You could understand why that someone might be “the delight of your eyes.”

So to take her away from him “at a stroke”, regardless of the strong message it would convey to the people, just seems harsh and unfair. And while I have been reading for weeks about the impending judgment and destruction of thousands of people, both Judah and the nations surrounding her, the death of this one individual kind of gets stuck in my throat.

Cue another reading this morning . . .

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. . . . If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(1John 1:5, 9 ESV)

While the actions of God in my Ezekiel reading are still percolating in the background, what jumps off the page in my 1John reading are the attributes of God. While I struggle with what God has done, I am satisfied with who God is.

Though, in His sovereign purposes God determines to take away the delight of Ezekiel eyes, yet God is light. In Him is no darkness at all. He is faithful and just. So, though I wrestle, yet I worship.

God’s actions are not the basis for forming an opinion about God. But God’s attributes provide the greater context for all that He does.

What He does is informed by Who He is.

Who He is, not a result of my reflexive response to what I think is right and fair, but a reality founded on His revelation of Himself.

God is light, thus what He does is informed by light. There is no darkness in Him, thus nothing He does is dark. He is faithful and just and so all that He does is in line with His redemptive promises, founded upon His redemptive work, and advances His redemptive agenda. Whether I fully get it or not.

Something I read years ago by Swindoll comes to mind: He is God and nothing less. I am man and nothing more.

Or, as the God of Creation revealed to Isaiah:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

Though I may sometimes wonder as I reflect on His actions, I worship as a I chew on His attributes.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Seeing Isn’t Necessarily Believing

After all he’d been through, you might think it was a strange question to have to respond to. “Do you believe?”

Fact, he was a well known beggar in town. Fact, everybody knew he’d been blind from birth. Fact, a man identifying Himself as Jesus, anointed his eyes with mud and told him, if wanted to see for the first time and for all time, to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Fact, he went and washed. Fact, he came back seeing. And fact, life got a lot harder.

No longer the blind beggar, he was now the man who had formerly been blind who had washed away mud made on the Sabbath. A walking miracle presenting a mixed message — at least for some. The Pharisees struggled with the implications of a blind man seeing — especially one made to see by Jesus.

What’s anybody doing making mud, or washing away mud, on the Sabbath? Surely a holy man would know that no work should be done on the holy day. They were splitting hairs and they knew it. And no matter how they sought to manipulate the law, it didn’t change the fact that before them they looked into the eyes of a blind man seeing.

So they question, was he really blind? Short answer: yup! The man knew it. His parents knew it. Everyone around who had ever dropped an alm in his cup knew it. And deep down, they knew it too. Dead end.

So back to making mud on the Sabbath. “We know this man is a sinner, for He does not keep they Sabbath,” they say. To which the seeing blind guy replies:

“Whether He is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.

(John 9:25 ESV)

And so, when Jesus meets up with the man again; when the man looks into the face of Jesus; and Jesus looks into the enlivened eyes of the man; Jesus asks him that strange question, “Do you believe?” To which the seeing man blind from birth replies, “Lord, I believe” (Jn. 9:38).

Because seeing is believing.

Except when it isn’t. Despite the evidence, despite the firsthand witnesses and testimonies, despite the fact a blind from birth seeing man stood before them looking them in the eyes, the Pharisees refused to believe.

For if they did, they would have submit to what was yet another sign bearing witness to Jesus’ claim to be the Son of Man. A miracle making sense of His claim that He was sent of the Father to proclaim the kingdom. An encounter of the divine kind attesting to the divinity of the carpenter from Nazareth. Something they weren’t prepared to do, no matter what they saw.

So for these religious leaders, seeing wasn’t necessarily believing.

Thus, another fact: these men who could see from birth were blind.

For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” ~ Jesus

(John 9:39 ESV)

At first, I stumbled a bit over this verse. Hadn’t Jesus just said, a few chapters back, that He was not sent to condemn the world (Jn. 3:17)? So what is the judgment Jesus is referring to here?

I’m thinking it’s the judgment of revealing things for what they truly are. Wielding the sword of truth that cuts through the facade of pretense and exposes the heart. The light that backs into a corner those who mask their darkness with fake light, and compels them to confess their blindness.

When all is said and done, Jesus is the polarizing agent of truth who forces the bottom line question, “With all that you’ve seen, do you believe?”

And for those for whom seeing is believing, there is confession and worship.

But for those for whom seeing isn’t necessarily believing, they are confronted with their truth. That they are blind, though they claim to see. That they are in darkness, though they claim to be enlightened. That they too are in need of some Sabbath made mud to wash away their stubborn pride. That today, if they will believe, they too can go wash in the fountain of life. And they too can know the worship that flows from the witness:

“One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Because of the Savior’s power, patience, and abounding grace.

All for the Savior’s honor, praise, and everlasting glory.

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Reach Repentance

Reach repentance. Those are the two words, in the ESV, that I’m chewing on this morning. Literally, the idea is to “make room” for a “change of mind.” To clear some space that was occupied with one type of thinking in order to receive or hold something that’s maybe a different way of thinking–like a 180 degree different way of thinking.

Reach repentance.

And that, according to Peter, is why our Lord is so patient.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

(2Peter 3:8-9 ESV)

Until this morning, I’ve always thought of the Lord’s “a thousand years as one day” approach as a benefit to the unsaved. Those yet to bow the knee. That the Lord’s patiently waiting for them to come to repentance.

But this morning I’m thinking to myself, “Self, what if you too are a benefactor of the Lord’s patience? That the longer He tarries, the longer you live, you too have the opportunity for making room for a change of mind?”

After all, isn’t that how the transformation game works? Through the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2)?

While my soul is redeemed, how much of my thinking is yet to be redeemed? While we have the mind of Christ (1Cor. 2:16), how many areas of my life are still to be brought into complete subjection to the mind of Christ? How much space still needs to be cleared in order to make room for His ways to occupy that space.

Isn’t repentance an on-going dynamic? As we continue to learn how to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14); as we gain experience with the daily battle between the Spirit and the flesh (Gal 5:17), and become more proficient at living by the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25); as we figure out what it means to live as new creations in Christ (2Cor. 5:17); how much of that is dependent on a change of mind–the reversal of thoughts, actions, motivations, and priorities? Maybe more than I care to admit.

How much of my on-going sanctification is wrapped up in reaching repentance? At least some of it, I’m thinking.

And the Lord is patient towards us. Those who are slow to make room. Those who, for some reason, want to maintain the junk and clutter of a former life. Patient, so that we should reach repentance.

Yes, the Lord is patient. But not that we might presume on His patience.

Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

(Romans 2:4 ESV)

Recognizing His patience, seeing His kindness, is meant to lead us to repentance. His grace is not an excuse to maintain the status quo in our thinking and actions. Instead, it should be a catalyst for making room for the mind of Christ and the practical out-working of the righteousness of Christ already credited to our account.

The Lord is patient toward me. That I should, through His kindness, reach repentance.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Because of His amazing grace. For His everlasting glory.

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What A Story!

Ezekiel 16 has got to be one of the most amazing passages in all of Scripture. Not just because of the story told, but because it reveals that God is a Storyteller. His tale of a city, Jerusalem, waxes poetic while being explicitly descriptive.

The Storyteller relates the story of her orphaned condition at birth, “your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, . . . you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred” (16:4-5). No one to care for her. No one willing to claim her. And yet the Storyteller, when He passes by and sees her wallowing in her blood, says to her, “Live!”

And she does. And she grows up. Matures in form. No longer a child but now “at the age of love.” And the One who rescued her now brings her into covenant relationship with Himself, declaring, “You are mine” (16:8). And He clothes her with the finest clothing. He adorns her with expensive jewelry. And crowns her with unmatched royalty. And she models for the nations around her what a rags to riches story looks like when the LORD is your rescuer.

“And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord GOD.”

(Ezekiel 16:14 ESV)

But then there’s there a but. There’s more to the story–tragically more.

“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.”

(Ezekiel 16:15 ESV)

And you almost want to turn your eyes away and avoid watching the train wreck happen. Stop reading and not spoil the perfection and splendor of this beautiful bride with the details of her wretched unfaithfulness. As she takes her fine garments, with some of them making a tent, with others laying them down as bedding, and on them plays the whore. As she takes her beautiful jewels of gold and silver, fashioning them into an idol, “and with them played the whore.” As she takes the children she had borne for her Rescuer through their covenant relationship, and offers them to her inanimate lovers. As she forgets the days of her youth, when she was naked and bare, wallowing in her blood (16:16-22).

And it doesn’t stop there. Her insatiable lust leads to adulterous relationships with her “lustful neighbors” around her. So she multiplies her whorings with the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans. But unlike other prostitutes who give themselves for payment, she pays her illicit lovers with gifts, bribing them to come to her from every side. The Storyteller drawing this conclusion, “How sick is your heart!” (16:26-34).

Therefore, God says, “I will judge you” (4:38).

So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and My jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry.

(Ezekiel 16:42 ESV)

Thus she also models for the nations around her a riches to rags story as a warning for those who are unfaithful to their God.

But the steadfast love of the Lord never fails. The abounding grace of God really is abounding. His precious promises truly are promises. And so, the story’s not done. The Storyteller has yet more to tell.

“. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant. . . . I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord GOD.”

(Ezekiel 14:60, 62-63 ESV)

Because of His promise, He will atone for her. And she will be rescued again.

Though her mouth will be closed with contrition, and her heart humbled as she remembers her ways, she shall be brought to her senses.

. . . and you shall know that I am the LORD.

What a story!

Praise be to the Storyteller!

Because you can’t help but find your story in His story. Once orphaned. But then betrothed. Robed in the garments of a bride. Adorned with treasures from heaven’s storehouse. Perfect in His splendor. But then forgetful. And then unfaithful. Thinking somehow the beauty was our beauty. Thinking, somehow, that our ways, and the world’s ways, had something more to offer.

Yet, never not a child of promise. All our sin atoned for through the finished work of Christ. Drawn back to our first love, though His loving discipline. Still the bride. Our beauty intact in Him. Only because of the Storyteller. Only through the Storyteller’s Son.

What a story!

By the Storyteller’s grace. For the Storyteller’s glory.

Amen?

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Bad Truth (A 2010 Rerun)

Reposting, as is, some thoughts I put together back in 2010. Reading Job 4 this morning, as I was then. Pondering over some interesting verses, as I was then. But today it’s in the context of a prolonged period of awareness of doing battle “not with flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). A reminder that one of the enemies tactics is to distort truth. Reposting for your consideration.


So, I came across something that felt kind of creepy as I was reading in Job this morning. To be honest, I don’t think I ever really noticed it before . . . or paused to reflect on it . . . and, not even sure I really understand it. So why am I writing about it? Maybe just to work it over in my mind a bit.

So here’s the deal . . . the conversation has started. Job’s at the center of a cosmic struggle between God and Satan (actually . . . not really a struggle . . . God wins . . . Satan’s only power is that which God had allowed). Job is God’s divine object lesson modeling a man of integrity who, despite great personal loss and tragedy, remains faithful . . . still blesses the Lord . . . refuses to sin with his lips and curse God. But, Job is just a man. And so, as he suffers he laments the day he was born (ch. 3) . . . gives word to his crushed spirit and brokenness . . . can’t help but articulate that he doesn’t think what’s happened to him makes any sense . . . or is “fair”. And with him are three friends (sorta’) . . . who have come to comfort him (not so much) . . . but instead challenge and debate him.

I’m reading Job 4 . . . the response of one of these friends, Eliphaz, to Job’s lament . . . and essentially he says to Job, “Obviously you’re suffering because you have sinned.” Some comforter, huh? Thanks bud for those “pick me up” words. Kick a guy when he’s down . . . as if my heart isn’t crushed enough . . . tell me I deserve it . . . convince me that if I had been a better guy that my kids would still be alive today . . . that if I were more faithful to God . . . if I was more blameless . . . more upright . . . feared God more . . . shunned evil more . . then my flesh wouldn’t be rotting off my bones right now.

The words of a friend? Or of an enemy? . . . THE ENEMY . . . the enemy of God . . . of men’s souls . . . the destroyer? Here’s the creepy part . . .

Eliphaz relates a reason for his confidence in speaking these words of “wisdom” . . . it was a vision he had . . . a “word secretly brought” to him (4:12-21). His ear “received a whisper” . . . “disquieting thoughts” from visions in the night . . . fear coming upon him, causing him to tremble and his bones to shake . . . a spirit passing before his face . . . the hair standing on end. This fear-invoking spirit of his dreams in the darkness of night stands before him silently . . . he’s unable to discern its appearance . . . and then the spirit speaks, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If He puts no trust in His servants, if He charges His angels with error, how much more those who dwell in houses of clay . . .” (Job. 4:17-19).

Kinda eerie, huh?

At first the words seem to sound like truth . . . of course a mortal can’t be more righteous than God . . . there’s none righteous, no, not one (Rom. 3:10) . . . no brainer that the creation cannot be more pure than the Creator. But, though the words sound somewhat familiar . . . there’s a hiss behind them . . . a sense of twisting and distorting . . . by this masked spirit of the night that brings fear. Does God really not trust His servants? And what angles did He charge with error, save those who rebelled? Is there a tone of a personal root of bitterness detected here within this spirit? And is the conclusion of suffering really that because God dealt such with the angels how much more will He be the destroyer of those who are merely houses of clay? Sounds like bad “truth” to me.

I don’t know if I’m being clear, but as I pause over this passage I think I’m seeing something of the subtle deception and influence of the enemy’s forces. Bad truth makes for a bad comforter. Did Satan’s attacks upon Job conclude with the destroying of his wealth, the killing of his children, and the destroying of his flesh? . . . or, does he continue with the mind games? I’m thinkin’ . . .

We are not unaware of the enemy’s desires to devour us (1Peter 5:7) . . . not ignorant of his devices (2Cor. 2:11). He is a distorter of truth . . . the father of lies (John 8:44) . . . the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10) . . . the destroyer (Rev. 9:11). Oh, that, through the Spirit indwelling us, we would be discerners of his lying “words of wisdom” . . . standing fast in grace . . . by the authority of our King . . . resisting the enemy, such that he flees from us (James 4:7) . . . knowing that greater is He who is in us, then he who is in the world (1John 4:4) . . . for the glory of God, our power and strength . . . amen!

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